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Splash of Purple, ‘No’ to Navy Hat Show Clinton’s Army-Navy Neutrality

December 7, 1996

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Watching a military academy football classic, President Clinton cheered both sides and balanced Navy blue, Army green and West Point gray with a splash of neutral purple.

That’s the armed forces’ symbolic color code for all services as they cast aside traditional rivalries and work together.

Clinton and Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both wore buttons, bordered in purple, that read: ``Army vs. Navy _ Joint Winners.″

Clinton is the first president to attend the game since Gerald Ford in 1974.

``Both the secretary of the Navy and the secretary of the Army have tried every year to get me to come, and something has prevented it everytime,″ Clinton said during a brief interview with CBS in the second quarter. ``I had the day open. I wanted to be here, and I’m very proud to be here.″

As for the ``Joint Winners″ buttons, ``It’s the whole idea of joint operations, of jointness″ among the services, said Col. Jim Fetig, spokesman for the National Security Council. ``The attitude is purple. Service people cheer for their services, but the commander in chief is a neutral.″

For the game’s first half, Clinton settled into open bleachers on the Navy side of Veterans Stadium. He was protected from a slanting, driving rain by the concrete overhang of bleachers above him.

``I’ve been on the Navy side in this half, so they’re pretty happy in the second quarter,″ Clinton told CBS play-by-play man Sean McDonough.

``How do you hand this game as command in chief. Do you route for each team for one half?″ McDonough asked.

``That’s what you do,″ Clinton said.

Clinton’s neutrality was put to the test early.

As the president arrived for the 97th Army-Navy football game, a Navy officer handed him a Navy baseball cap and suggested he wear it as protection against the rain.

Clinton grinned, declined the offer, and said he would wear his thoroughly neutral broad-brimmed Crocodile-Dundee-style felt hat he acquired on a visit to Australia last month.

``He knew he was being set up,″ said Fetig, an Army officer. ``He was being set up by the Navy.″

Observing the alleged ``setup,″ Adm. Charles Larson, superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, said he admired the president’s sense of fair play.

It was Clinton’s first Army-Navy game. Army Secretary Togo West, plugging his service and clearly anticipating an Army victory, said the president picked the right year to come.

Army entered the game with a 9-1 record and was favored to beat Navy, at 8-2.

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